When you look over the Island, you can see vast stretches of indigenous forest, plantation area, the centrally located Stone or Zanzibar Town. The coast is lined with white sandy beach and the water is so clear and blue that as you fly round you can see the ocean bed below. The highest point on the Islands is no more than 390 metres above sea level.
With a population of between 900 and 1 million people let us take a closer look at the history behind what are known as the Spice Islands.
For centuries past the Islands of Zanzibar attracted explorers. Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Indians, Chinese, Portuguese, Persians, Dutch and the English are among many.
Of these Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs decided to stay and rule. As a result the population of Zanzibar is 97% Islamic and 3% Christian, Hindu or Sikh.
Arabs sailed from Oman to trade in slaves, ivory and spices.
In 1832 Sultan Seyyid Said of the Busaid dynasty in Oman moved his sultanate from Muscat to Zanzibar. He and his descendants ruled here for 130 years. The Arab community owned most of the land and did not intermarry with the local Africans. The same cannot be said however for the Shirazi Persians who came from the Middle East as early as AD975 to settle on the African East Coast.
Zanzibar is a poor island, however has a wealth of historical monuments worth visiting where you can note the African, British and Arab influences. The contrast in Zanzibar between the main Town area, Stone Town and the Tourist venues on the Islands are startling. The poverty in the town is heart rendering. Stone Town consists of approximately 2500 buildings all made of coral stone, lime and clay, including 45 Mosques, 2 Christian churches and 4 Hindu halls.
The architecture is fascinating and you can almost imagine what it looked like in yesteryear. Visiting the Slave quarters gives you a compassion for humanity as you stand in the claustrophobic chamber where the slaves crouched toe-to-toe 50-70 side by side, listening to the roar of the crashing ocean in hunger.
Delightful artifacts and curios are worth their bargain price and more. I would encourage you to purchase from the little shops in Stone Town that are hidden in little alleyways worth discovering but brace yourself for an eye opener if you have not set foot in rural Africa before.
A bus ride in Zanzibar is not for the faint of heart and if ever to drive their make sure the hooters works because this seems the only means of road rule as vehicles hurtle in their direction and speed of choice.
Stopping in the Plantations and walking with the local children and tour guide discovering the spices was an afternoon that will remain with me forever. To tear a strip of cinnamon off a tree while sipping from the milk of a coconut shell and watching long legged chickens speeding through the trees you realise that here there is so much wealth.
Here you have poverty in its absolute extreme, a land rich in spices and fresh fruit and a people so humble with children attending to your every need, making grass rings and bags in the hope of a spare dollar.
Something that struck me however even at the Hotel where I stayed, other than a mangled cat and a crow I saw no bird or animal life. Although In Jozani forest about 35kms South East of Zanzibar Town you can see the blue Sykes Monkeys and the red Colour bus Monkeys.
Zanzibar is a fascinating and exotic wedding destination. Many beautiful venues look forward to marrying couples on their beaches. Arrive four days before to make time to see the priest who will do the wedding, and organise all your legal documentation. Make sure you have all your paper work and appointments in order before departure and then enjoy as much time as possible relaxing in the paradise of the Islands.
What you will need if traveling to East Africa:
When traveling to East Africa you must ensure that you have had a yellow fever inoculation and the relevant certificate, this is valid for ten years and will be asked for at South African Customs on return. This must be obtained at least 10 days prior to departure. It is also recommended that malaria precautions be taken. Inoculations can be acquired at your closest travel clinic.
If you hold a South African passport you will be required to obtain a visa. This can be done at the Tanzanian Embassy. You will need to take with you 2 completed forms and 2 passport photo-graphs. Usually your Tour Operator can assist you with your Visa application or there are companies that specialise in assisting travelers with Visa and other travel related documentation.
Your Tour Operator will also advise you to take out a comprehensive Travel Insurance.
The rainy season starts in March and July is incredibly windy, calming only towards September thereby leaving October to February as the best times to visit Zanzibar.
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